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Published in the 16-30 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

AMU “reservation”

Much ado about nothing!

By Dominic Emmanuel <dominic1@vsnl.com>

The Milli Gazette Online 

If there was one thing that appeared to dampen the high spirits of the Congress led UPA government’s performance and its success story at the center on its first anniversary, it was Arjun Singh’s nod to the decision made by the Executive Council of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) for a 50% reservation to Muslims in 36 PG courses there.

The media did a good dressing down of the decision as most of the editorials in papers were critical of the move saying that this would reduce the status and prestige of a 140 years old institution which had at one time the reputation of producing the best and maximum number of IAS officers, scientists, historians and scholars. The reaction of the Sangh Parivar that it was an anti-national and anti-secular move and that it would go to court on the issue came on the expected lines. Unexpected, however, were the reactions of some of the Muslim alumni of AMU who also joined in the chorus to dub it as a ‘blatant communal act’. 

One, however, fails to understand as to what this commotion is all about. AMU is clearly marked out as a minority institution. According to the terms of reference of the University given in Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act, 1981, the institution is supposed to “promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India”. Besides article 30 (1) of the Indian Constitution, enables minorities, in this case Muslims, the right to “establish and administer educational institutions of its choice”.

The commotion against the move would have been justifiable only if the Executive Council of AMU had passed a decision, and one is surprised as to why it did not, for a 100% reservation of seats for Muslims only as was the case a few years ago in the question of admission to the prestigious St. Stephen’s college in Delhi. The Supreme Court then ruled, about which some Christians are still unhappy, that the college could not admit more than 50% students from the Christian minority community.

It is also surprising to see that all the statistics about the members of the Muslim community lagging behind in literacy and therefore being economically backward have suddenly disappeared from the memories of those arguing against the decision. The result of the research conducted by Abu Saaleh Sharif based on the National Sample Survey in 1998 is not merely a matter of academic interest where he points out that in the age group of 7 years and above, literacy rate among Muslim males is 59.5% and that of women 38% making a total of 49.5% whereas among Hindu males it is 65.9% and among women it is 39.2% making it a total of 52.5% and among Christian males it was 85% and among women it was 76.5% making a total of nearly 81%. Among other religious groups too the ratio is 65.6% among males and 40.1% among females making it a total of 53.5%.

Similarly as far as enrolment to schools is concerned while the Indian average is 72%, among Muslims it is only 61.9%. Further, among girls of all other religions it is 65% but only 57% Muslim girls enroll in schools. Also among 6 to 14 age group, school drop out among Muslims is 7% whereas in all other communities it is 4.8%.

In the rural areas among Muslims only 2.2% males and 0.5% females are graduates whereas among the Hindu community it is 3.5% and 0.6% respectively. Vast difference can be found among urban areas too. Whereas in the Hindu community 46% have passed class X, among the Muslims the average is only 24%. Who is to blame for this reality of educational backwardness among Muslims in the country?

These statistics need to be kept in mind before dismissing the recent move by AMU and its ratification by HRD as communal or as ghettoisation of educational institutions. Such decisions need to be applied to more Universities in the country to bridge the gap that clearly exists between the Muslims of the country and other communities. 

Only those ill informed on the issue of minority rights as propounded by the UN declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities; the European Charter on regional or minority languages; the Hague Recommendations relating to educational rights of national minorities; the Lund recommendations on the Effective participation of national minorities in public life and other similar pronouncements would call this gesture of bringing the educationally backward Muslim community in the mainstream as communal.
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